When Not In Rome…

Over the past year, year and a half or so, I’ve been tracking my daily miles run. Looking back at this week last year, I ran 9.5 miles all week.  There’s a couple of reasons for that: First, my convalescence from doing three laps at the FIT Challenge – my muscles were basically stone for the week following, it was ugly – and second, we were in Italy for the week and I was more interested in sight seeing and drinking wine than I was in running.

So this week I’m determined to make some mileage gains against “year ago Mo,” but there is one slight complication: while I’m recovering quite nicely from the DOMS resulting from FIT, thank you very much, I tweaked myself a few weeks back at To Hale and Back – my butt is really giving it to me. More specifically I’m pretty sure I’m battling through a little something called Piriformis Syndrome (either that or hip cancer…these Internet diagnoses can be a little touch and go).

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The most recent Sneakerama Fun Run.  Bonus points if you can find me.  Photo Credit: Lisa Genatossio

It was letting up by the time I started FIT, but I could feel by butt radiating pain not too long into it.  It was low key most of the previous week, zinged me pretty good at the Thursday night Sneakerama Fun Run, but evened out for Saturday after resting on Friday.  Even the next day after FIT at Jay Lyons, it was bothering me – not quite as much as the stiffness in my leg muscles over all, but it was still there.  Who knew that running another 70-miles with a joint that was screaming about a repetitive use injury would exacerbate things?

It really kicked in last night at my running club’s group run – normally I’ll bang out 5 (last week 7!) miles, but this time I just did 4.  A day after running a 7:40 5k with sore muscles, I couldn’t get much beyond a 9:30+ pace.  It was ugly crying hot-mess all the way.  Tonight I banged out 3.7 at a very similar pace, limping all the way.  If anyone saw a 90-year old running around the Wachusett Reservoir this evening, that was me.  Small victories though: where a year ago I scraped by with 9.5 miles on the entire week, I hit 10.8 today.  Of course, I’m also not vacationing in Italy this week – so it’s truly a mixed bag with a net negative.

The stretches outlined in the link above combined with a heating pad and some analgesic cream seems to be having the desired effect. I do have to say that a nice hot heating pad on your butt is a not-unpleasant experience.

I’ve been playing with signing up for a long trail race or half marathon against doing nothing on Saturday.  After my run this evening, I was pretty much decided that “doing nothing” was going to win, but with some stretching and this heating pad I may reconsider, but I have to do it quickly – the half marathon registration window closes tomorrow and it looks like there may only be 11 or so more slots available.  Decisions, decisions.

I mean this heating pad is off the chain.

What I’m particularly happy with is that while I’ve been in a considerable amount of pain, I have been able to keep going; perhaps not as long nor as far as I would prefer, but I’ve been able to go.  I spent six, maybe 7 weeks on ice last year due to injury and I was still able to hit my running goal for the year. It is on that I set my goal for this year, but that requires that I stay healthy.  28-29 miles a week for 52-weeks.  Miss a week means amortizing 30 miles across the remaining weeks.  I can’t afford to lose time.

I know from my heart monitor data that I’m basically maintaining cardiovascular on the past couple of runs – not much exertion…can’t get moving fast enough to get my heart rate up high enough, long enough, but maintenance will suffice for the time being.  Maintaining means I’m not losing ground and that’s the next best thing to gaining ground.

I’ve forgotten how nice a warm heating pad feels.  And on your butt too?  Sublime. How have I not thought of this before now?

Well, I’m going to head to bed and hope that tomorrow morning enough of my aches and pains and dings and dents have given way so I can get a few miles in before work.  If I can’t be in Italy, I may as well run, right?

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TKOs, Strategic Retreats, Halls of Mirrors and Being Adamantine

It would seem the year that was getting punched in the face has won via technical knockout.  This is not to say goals haven’t been achieved – they have – but it is to say that 2017 has stepped up to take back the idea that while you can fight age, no you cannot fully outrun it.  A seemingly obvious truism, but it is a lesson I think we each learn in our own way.

An ironic lesson perhaps that I started on a fitness journey to be sure that I reclaimed everything I possibly could because I was all too aware that life is short, opportunities come by once and I was determined not to allow Father Time to advance on me without giving myself the best opportunity to enjoy my one trip here.

In June, the year that was getting punched in the face punched back and I was put out of commission for 6-weeks. Made worse by the fact that at the fact that at the beginning of June I was bold enough to say that I was dissatisfied with punching in the face and was going to tear the face off the year.  On the 10th, I had fallen down a mountain.  9 stitches in my forearm and tendon surgery on my foot.  Had I to do it again, I probably wouldn’t continue the remaining 20+ miles of the race, but I was headstrong enough that I was not going to quit.  Hard to know if this was a “win” or if it was failing to accept a strategic retreat.

But that was an accident.  A failure perhaps of training, a failure to pay sufficient attention to what was required of a highly technical trail race.  Perhaps a failure of focus.  It was not a failure due to age.  Anyone taking on that race, under the same circumstances would have suffered the same injuries.  In fact, I feel confident in saying not too many people would have had the fortitude to continue on to finish – for better or worse.  In my mind’s eye, the fact that someone less than 1000 days from age 50 was out there on that course was testament to the idea the Reaper was getting further away in my rear view rather than closer.

This is different.  This is the reality check.  There may be times when the Reaper seems further behind, but that is perception in the hall of mirrors that is life.  After that involuntary layoff, I doubled down on my efforts.  More miles on the odometer.  Faster miles on the odometer. More races on the calendar.  Longer races on the calendar.  I improved personal records on 5k races, 10m races, 50k.  Running more, running faster, running more frequently.

And then, that pain in my heel.  I “knew” at the end of my run what it was.  It wasn’t an ache.  It was acute and localized.  I was pretty sure I had done something to my Achilles.  I was hoping it was a strain.  I ran a few more times, each time my pace suffered, my pain increased.  One last struggle of a run and the accompanying pain the next day, I knew I had to go to the doctor.

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And thus I find myself in an immobilizing walking boot.  My year of goals without fear is over.  I accomplished more than 1100 miles on a plan of 1000.  I ran something like 47 races even while missing more than a few while recovering in June and July.  I failed at some goals, but I succeeded at my most important ones.  It’s important now to focus on what I want to accomplish in 2018, and what this injury means for those goals.  Right now, there’s no surgery planned.  The doctor seems content to give me a few weeks in the boot anticipating that time should give me the time to heal and then work toward strength building.

I took too long to admit it, but I did. Like my experience in June, I tried to solider on and get it done.  Unlike my experience in June, I quit before it cost me more than it already had.  Perhaps a degree of learning or growing up on my part to realize that calling a strategic retreat isn’t an admission of defeat – it’s the appropriate reconsideration of the requirements given changing conditions on the battlefield.

Building an athletic level of fitness is not a means to fully prevent injury or illness.  It is, however, a means to mitigate those injuries or illness.  A runner may in fact be less likely to suffer a heart attack, but that runner is also more likely to have a heart that can mitigate the damaging effects of a heart attack.   Stronger hearts fare far better in both survival and recovery rates.  Because I’ve been running, because my body is strong an injury which may have completely ruptured my tendon 2 or 3-years ago, resulted in a partial rupture.  Why was my tendon prone to rupture? I’m less than 800 days away from age 50.  Time waits for no one, age will come to collect its toll.  The object is to resist.  As any personal trainer knows, resistance creates strength and strength allows further resistance.

The Reaper still remains, hiding somewhere in that hall of mirrors.  Ultimately, he will come to collect his due, but just like everything else in life, putting in the work to prepare for that which may come is the best way to get the best results from any encounter.

I’m determined at this point not to follow the path I followed in June.  I let my nutrition go and gained weight.  I focused on what I could not now do instead of what I could do and my conditioning suffered for it.  I’ve found vigorous activity keeps my emotions in check and keeps my head in all aspects of my Life’s game. I’m a better, more full and interesting person when I have been working out.  I’m determined not to see why I cannot run.  I am determined to see what I can do to maintain fitness while I’m recovering from this setback, what I can do to avoid a similar setback and what I can do to be sure I find the opportunity.  I’ve been duly reminded that I’m not 20 and bulletproof.  I’m screaming toward 50 and far from bulletproof, but I’m in the game.  If I’m to stay in the game, I need to be sure I’m more cognizant of the rules.   It’s all about resilience. Positioning oneself to be able to resiliently face the challenges in front of us is the key.

Doing the work – no matter how slow the results – to position yourself to best withstand whatever form the Reaper presents himself is your best bet for surviving and thriving despite the Reaper’s call, whether that’s wearing your seatbelt, or maintaining heart health and a generally healthy lifestyle.

Sometimes that means a strategic retreat.  Something that’s easier to acknowledge later in the battle than sooner.  In June when I hadn’t  accomplished anything that was hard to hear.  In December, it’s easier.  I’ve done the work, and now I have the perspective.  I’m glad – eternally grateful – that I realized that in the middle of my life, and not in the December.